Perfect Dark XBLA Review

I was huge fan of the original Perfect Dark when it first came out on the Nintendo 64, spending more time on it than any other game in its generation.  Let’s be honest, the N64 wasn’t exactly a top-of-the-line machine, but it had some great games.  Chief among those was, of course, Goldeneye 007’s spiritual successor: Perfect Dark.  Now it’s back and looking better than ever.  The Studio that brought Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie to the Xbox Live Arcade has graced us with another one of Rare’s classics.  After our hopes of ever getting a port of Goldeneye were dashed (thanks a lot Nintendo), we got bumped up to first class: Perfect Dark.

Originally released in mid-2000, Perfect Dark is set in the year 2023 during an interstellar war between two races.  The Maians resemble the stereotypical grey-skinned, big-headed aliens, and the Skedar, who we shall describe as “space dinosaurs”, are able to disguise themselves as humans.  The game follows special agent Joanna Dark, an operative for the Carrington Institute, during these events as she investigates a conspiracy by the evil dataDyne corporation.

Be aware that this is more of a port and not a remake.  Think of it more as a remastered version of your favorite music album, rather than one done by a tribute band.


For Perfect Dark veterans like myself, there is basically no need to relearn the game.  Gameplay-wise, this XBLA version is identical to its predecessor.  On the other hand, players who are new to the game are in for a shock.  Unlike other rereleases for XBLA, such as Duke Nukem 3D, Perfect Dark doesn’t add any tweaks to benefit current generation gamers.  This means that you’ll get no checkpoints during missions and no regenerating health.  Unfortunately, all of this means that anyone without some understanding of the game’s origins (or at least an open mind) may dismiss this game entirely.

While it hasn’t been changed fundamentally by the switch from the old N64 controller to the Xbox 360 gamepad, most actions can now be performed in a simpler and often more comfortable manner.  For instance, switching to secondary fire or crouching is now single press (no more holding multiple buttons).  The default controls follow closely to the original setup with adjustments for the conveniences, but there are two other styles for different tastes.  The precise-aim function is still available, but between auto-aim and the dual analogs, you’ll probably rarely use it.  Unfortunately, it’s still just as hyper-sensitive and fidgety as it always was.

The game offers 17 solo missions plus 4 special assignments that must be unlocked.  Between missions and multiplayer, the player is free to roam the Carrington Institute and look up character bios and equipment info in various parts of the building.  The firing range, which tests your proficiency with each of the game's weapons that you’ve unlocked, is still around.  Earning gold medals can score you the cheats for the classic Goldeneye guns in solo.  The rest of the cheats for solo are waiting to be unlocked within the missions just like in the original, but you’ll still have to work for them.  Your hard-earned cheats can add an extra level of fun to the single player.  The alternative way of unlocking a few of the cheats (previously by using the Perfect Dark Game Boy Color game) has been replaced with the presence of a Perfect Dark Zero save.  All of the solo player levels still feature the numerous easter eggs (cheese, anyone?), as well as most of the glitches (the useful ones).  They even took the time to recode the game so that strafe-running would still be possible for speed runs.  Now that’s dedication!

Perfect Dark still features its excellent difficulty system, which is far more enjoyable than the ones used in current generation games.  Each difficulty (Agent, Special Agent and Perfect Agent) doesn’t just add tougher and more numerous enemies, it also gives more objectives and sometimes changes the flow of the level.  You’ll even notice changes in ammunition and item availability.  Completing the game on Perfect Agent difficulty adds the Perfect Dark mode, which allows the player to customize various aspects of enemies, such as health, accuracy and damage.

In addition to the solo missions, PD includes a range of multiplayer options, including co-operative, challenge, and player vs. player “counter-operative” modes as well as a more traditional deathmatch all within its “combat simulator”.  The combat simulator was – and compared to some modern games, still is – one of the most robust multiplayer components available in a FPS.  The XBLA version supports up to 4 players split-screen as well as up to 8 “simulant” AI players, allowing for a grand total of 12 combatants.  Each simulant can be set to a number of difficulty and behavioral combinations and character models.  Even better, each match can be set up with custom weapon sets and music selection in addition to standard score and time limits.  The only thing new to this version, aside from the addition of the classic Goldeneye guns for use in the combat simulator, is the ability to take the multiplayer online.  Online matches are often plagued with frequent lag spikes, and the customization is more limited in private matches for some reason.  Co-op, counter-operative, and challenge modes can also be done online, but they suffer from the same connection issues.

Between the solo story missions and generous multiplayer components, there is plenty of content to be had for the price.  If that’s not enough, they’ve also included Xbox Live leaderboards for single player mission scores, times, and “crowns” awarded for meeting special conditions. 


The audio of Perfect Dark has not seen any major changes.  It’s a shame, since the sound effects and voice acting were one of the few areas in which PD faltered.  It’s just as well, because a recast of the voices and updated sound effects would have made it lose some of its character.  On the bright side, the sounds do seem a bit cleaned up, and there’s a new echo effect in large, empty rooms.  The good news is that the soundtrack is still intact in all its original glory.  Many of the tracks are still some of the best pieces of video game music to date.


The most noticeable (and pretty much the only) change to Perfect Dark is the gorgeous update to its graphics.  Gone are the days of squinting at the screen to see what’s going on and have your multiplayer match go south as the frame rate grinds to a halt.  Although, it was technically one of the most advanced games developed for the N64…  Now you can enjoy the fresh, high-definition textures and a silky-smooth 60 frames-per-second frame rate.

With the update in textures comes a reskining of the character models.  I’m not a big fan of Joanna’s new face – it kind of looks like she put on too much make-up.  The other major character and enemies are fairly unchanged.  I should note, however, that the Maians now have more distinct textures and wrinkles.  Perhaps they perfected space travel, but not age-defying moisturizers?  The character models themselves only benefited from a few extra polygons here and there.  They all still speak closed-mouthed while flailing their blocky fists.

Perhaps the next biggest change that you’ll notice is the look of the game’s numerous guns and gadgets.  Each of the weapons has been completely reskined and most of them could now pass for real-world.  They don’t look quite as futuristic or vibrant as in the original, but they look fantastic, nonetheless.

Final Words…

Perfect Dark for the XBLA is prime example of how to port a classic game to a modern platform.  The team at 4J Studios and Rare did well to not mess with a good thing and only update the cripplingly outdated aspects (graphics and frame-rate).  Perfect Dark may not be a “perfect” game, but the fact that it still holds up 10 years later is a testament to its quality.  It’s a piece of FPS history that everyone should experience.  Perfect Dark is forever.

Recommended If:  You’ve played and love the original.  This time it’s only gotten better.

Not Recommended If:   You're brand new to the game.  It’ll probably be hard to appreciate it if you’re used to modern games.


  1. I've downloaded this but I'm waiting until Arc gets back from his RRoD hiatus before diving into it.

    I'm mostly interested in the multiplayer as I played the HELL out of the single player when I was in college.


  2. Perfect Dark is forever. I just now returned to this game after ten years--and I am not disappointed.

    When I learned Perfect Dark was coming to 360 (PD Zero), I was ecstatic. The game fell through, and I felt it didn't live up to the original game's standards. Playing Perfect Dark again on XBLA was one of the greatest experiences I've had on the 360. All I have to do now is get my brother in Split Screen for some classic Co-Op action.

  3. You have a real talent for writing unique content. I like how you think and the way you express your views in this article. I am impressed by your writing style a lot. Thanks for making my experience more beautiful. Binary Today


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